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New Year, New Me… A Cautionary Tale

Personal Training

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As much as it seems cliche within the health and fitness industry, January really does see a drastic increase in the number of individuals looking to make a change for the new year.

This should 100% be applauded. If it takes a short-term binge such as the Christmas holidays, or the arrival of a new calendar year to kickstart behaviour change then collectively, we should support those individuals who chose to embark at this time.

Yet as much as it’s well know that January see’s the greatest increase, what is often underestimated is the percentage of individuals who come March and April, who’ve “fallen off the wagon” in there attempts, regardless of whether they’ve gone it alone, in a class environment or sort the help of a coach or trainer.

We as humans are driven by quick-fix, short term solutions. We fail miserably are delaying gratification.

Advertisers are masters at compounding this desire with products that promise “immediate results” with books, programmes and DVD’s of how to transform the body in “90 days or your money back!“.

Equally there exist a sub-set of trainers and coaches in the industry who see the new intake of January clients as an excuse to shout, scream and drive fatigue into clients, all in the name of “getting in to shape”.

Yet why is it year-on-year that come Spring, these individuals are back where they started having failed to cope with the demands placed on them?

We as an industry, as coaches, and as clients, fail repeatedly to manage intensity to actually enable true behaviour change.

Exercise is as much of a stressor to the body as any other mechanism we commonly associate as causing us stress. Work, relationships, environment, diet, illness, poor sleep, worry and the many other forms of negative stress, strip us of our much needed energy supplies in the exact same way that a high intensity training session will.

There is a reason why you feel “drained” from a day of doing very little physical exercise other than dealing with other people’s stresses…

But this is not to say intensity is the enemy, far from it.

It’s a fundamental and crucial component of developing fitness. But like everything in life, it’s dose dependent.

However, we still persist with the mentality that more is better. More intensity, more volume, more sessions…

Yet the body can only supply a finite amount of energy on any given day.

As much as you may see Instagram posts of incredibly draining workouts, individuals dripping with sweat whilst still beaming ear-to-ear, and posts of how someone has reached 20,000 steps for the day by lunch. There are repercussions to this level of activity and intensity.

What’s being repeatedly shown within research is that there is an upper threshold to energy supply. Of course, improving fitness increases the capacity to meet greater demands. However there are limits to this capacity, at which point the body will redistribute energy between systems to meet the demands.

Our bodies are built for survival. The number one goal in the face of stress is to keep you, the organism, alive.

So if I’m living a life of work stress, extended periods without eating, a broken nights of sleep, and the beginnings of a winter cold, but have decided to workout for 2hrs each day in January, my body will no doubt need to shift focus away from what it perceives as being unnecessary and more towards the requirements for immediate survival. In this case, energy supply for exercise.

If supplying energy to the musculoskeletal system is priority, down goes the supply to our digestive and immune systems. Who cares about starving off a cold when the immediate concern is dealing with 5mins of Prowler shuttles or that upcoming work presentation that’s leaving you with sleepless nights…

Yet rather than looking at the New Year as an opportunity to apply focus on the things we know help manage the stress we already face, such as sleep, nutrition, respiration, meditation and effective exercise, we sprint from 0-60mph and inevitably hit a road block somewhere along the line.

Remember training is just one part of the process of developing health and fitness. You don’t get stronger, fitter, faster or leaner during your actual workout…

It’s the process of recovery that enables these changes to take place.

One of the hardest battles faced with new, and often existing, clients, is to begin to develop the appreciation of firstly managing what is already going on in their lives. Often it’s not what happens within the gym that matters to begin, but how they approach stress within the other 23hrs of the day.

Are they aware of daily activity, and can they modify if needed? Do they recognise cues for negative lifestyle choices and current habits? Do they have a basic awareness of hydration status on a day-to-day basis? Able to make positive nutritional decisions pre/post training? Have strategies for sleep quality and quantity? Positive solutions for stress management?

If not, that session you predicted would drive some positive fitness gains, may in fact contribute to your down fall.

So before you jump head first into a radical New Year transformation, take a moment to consider whether you can make changes to what you do on a day-to-day basis through daily physical activity, lifestyle, nutrition, hydration, stress management, sleep and recovery, and decide whether it really is intensity thats stopping you from reaching your goals, or whether its something far, far simpler.

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